Students of AI Do Not Study Ethics: Who Would Have Guessed? Plato?

August 25, 2020

Philosophers have argued about what is ethical for millennia and there are some agreed upon concepts: be kind, do not harm others, seek to better humanity, etc. Isaac Asimov is credited with creating the ethics for robots with his “Three Laws of Robotics.” However much Asimov’s robotic laws apply to reality, they are still fictional and real robotic/AI students need to learn more about ethics says The Next Web article: “Study: On 18% Of Data Science Students Are Learning About AI Ethics.”

The main ethical arguments surrounding AI are racial and gender biases and companies have launched their own AI ethical initiatives to avoid future problems. These initiatives are supposedly designed to serve humanity, but many critics say “ethics washing” will be a problem.

An even bigger issue is the lack of universities teaching future AI developers and data scientists about ethics related to their fields. Software firm Anaconda surveyed 2,360 data science students, professionals, and academics to see if they are being taught AI ethics. Only 18% of the students said they learned about the subject, while 15% of teachers said they taught it. There is interest to learn more, but no one implementing any curriculum nor programs:

“Anaconda’s survey of data scientists from more than 100 countries found the ethics gap extends from academia to industry. While organizations can mitigate the problem through fairness tools and explainability solutions, neither appears to be gaining mass adoption.

Only 15% of respondents said their organization has implemented a fairness system, and just 19% reported they have an explainability tool in place.”

Without ethics the consequences will affect legal, competitive, financial, and other sectors. Understandably these will trickle down to other parts of society and could be harmful.

Ethical laws are usually not enacted until predicted consequences are on full display, but do not science fiction works like Asimov already demonstrate the possibilities?

Whitney Grace, August 25, 2020


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